Safety Industry News

NIOSH Celebrates 100 Years of Respiratory Protection

From Tuesday through Friday (Sept. 3 to Sept. 6, 2019), the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is celebrating 100 years of respirator protection and certification with the first annual Respiratory Protection Week.

NIOSH estimates that about 5,000,000 U.S. workers, including many coatings contractors, are currently required to wear respirators as personal protective equipment (PPE) to perform their jobs well and safely. NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

History of Respirator Protection

A century ago, the U.S. Bureau of Mines initiated the first respirator certification program and certified the first respirator to protect miners from oxygen-deficient and toxic atmospheres.

Since 1919, through two world wars and the introduction of chemical warfare agents, various inhalation and environmental threats, and advances in science and technology, respirator protection expanded and became even more exact and adequate for a variety of industries and occupations. Standards were developed, and there was a significant move from advisory to mandatory protection.

Today, NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) is responsible for respirator certification and carries out research, testing, and related activities specific to respirator protection and other protective equipment. While the appearance of respirators has changed over the years, the goal remains the same: to protect workers from respiratory hazards on the job.

“Respiratory Protection Week honors both the history and the future of the efforts by researchers and practitioners to protect workers from airborne toxins,” said NIOSH director John Howard. “NIOSH’s own ongoing work in respiratory protection represents both a century’s worth of experience in preventing disease for millions of working men and women who have relied on respirators to protect their lungs, and a new century’s research in developing improvements in respiratory protection.”

Recent Respiratory Advances

Respiratory protection is the cornerstone of NPPTL’s efforts. One of the primary functions of the laboratory is to carry out testing procedures and recommend respirators for approval, therefore ensuring a level of standard filter efficiency for all respirators used within a U.S. workplace setting. As such, NPPTL’s respirator certification program exists to increase the level of worker protection from airborne chemicals and vapors — and therefore reduce the amount of worker illnesses.

Since 2012, NIOSH has recognized September 5 as N95 Day, raising targeted awareness of respiratory protection and specifically of N95s, the most common type of particulate filtering facepiece respirators. This year, N95 Day was expanded to Respiratory Protection Week.

As part of the week, NIOSH also published a historical timeline of respiratory advances over the last 100 years, which can be viewed at the agency’s website.

For more information, contact: NIOSH, (800) 232-4636,